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. We went back to Belleville, climbing the steep streets toward the shadowy heights of the Buttes Chaumont. But we didn’t get that far. We turned into a neighborhood of apartment blocks, more bad postwar urban planning. We stopped at the end of one dark street, in front of an especially faceless sixstory block. Ilya looked at the bells, picked one, rang it two, three, then four times. A crackle came from the speaker. “Who?” a male voice said. I could hear music behind him, pounding away. “It’s me,” Ilya said. “Let us in.” The buzzer on the front door sounded, and we went in, crowded into an elevator barely big enough for the two of us. Ilya pressed the button for the basement, and the elevator sank with a sickening jerk. As soon as the elevator stopped and Ilya stepped out with me behind him, a man bounded up and grabbed Ilya around the neck with one arm. I jumped back, hitting my head on the open elevator door. “You came,” the man said. It was Nolo, the African from La Sirène. “Good, good,” Nolo was saying, “And you brought a girl. Better and better.” We followed Nolo into a vast basement with plywood storage bins down one side, the numbers of the apartment units stenciled on them with spray paint. Lights, hot spots, were strung from the ceiling, and a DJ was set up at one end playing music. The noise hit me like a wall, like a kick in the chest. Under the lights a solid mass of people were dancing, their arms waving over their heads like a field of wheat in a strong wind. “Nolo is from Mali,” Ilya shouted. “The DJ is his cousin. Come on,” he said, and tried to lead me into the crowd. 10 92 I pulled my hand away. I couldn’t imagine joining such a crush of people. “In a minute, “ I shouted. I thought I saw a table covered with bottles in the far corner of the basement. “I need a drink.” Ilya shrugged, pushed forward into thedancers.Inaminute,hisarmswerewavingamongalltheothers—blackand white, all bare but Ilya’s. I kept seeing the blue arms of his sweater even though, between the lights and the bodies, it was as hot as if we were diamond miners inside the earth, much further below ground than a single story. I went to pour myself a glass of wine, but there was a fish bowl on the table filled with bills, with one and two euro coins, and that stopped me. I’d left my purseinIlya’sapartment.Ididn’thaveanymoney.“Here,”avoicesaidinmyear. Ahanddroppedacoininthebowl.Iturned.Thevoicebelongedtoatallwoman inanAfricanrobethoughshewaswhite,palerthanme.Shehandedmeaplastic glass, picked up one of the bottles and filled my cup. She poured herself a glass, too. “Chin-chin,” she said and clicked her plastic cup against mine. It was quieter at this end of the basement. A tangle of pipes and duct work blocked the speakers, though the music still bounced off the far wall and came back a little delayed, an echo, as out of sync as I felt. The woman leaned forward. “You came with Ilya,” she said into my ear. I nodded. She touched a square leather pouch she wore around her neck. “My name is Mei-mei. I read cards,” she said. “Want me to tell your fortune?” I opened my mouth, sure I was going to say no. Then I thought of Robert Desnos, passing down the ranks of the condemned in Auschwitz, whispering Long Life, Long Life as a blessing. “What do I do?” She took the pouch from around her neck, hung it around mine, then put my left hand on it. The leather felt warm from her breasts. “Think about what you want the cards to tell you. Ask them a question,” she said. Then she refilled my glass. “I’ll be right back.” I could feel my heart beating through the cards in perfect time to the drums in the music Nolo’s cousin was playing at the other end of the basement. Where is my daughter? Where is Julia? I asked the square edges of the cards pressed between my breasts. Then Mei-mei was back. She gestured for me to follow her. She lifted the padlock off one of the plywood storage lockers. Inside was a vinyl couch, a 93 badly bent metal garden chair, and a low coffee table held up at one end by a concrete block. A single bulb...


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Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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